Technology and Behavioral Science Initiative

Advances in consumer technology are transforming every aspect of daily life. Billions of social media posts are shared every day, millennials are glued to their phones, and personal tracking devices (e.g., Fitbits) and AI interfaces (e.g. Alexa and Google home) are becoming a more and more ubiquitous.  But while it is clear that these technologies are changing how we communicate and interact with the world, less is known about their more behavioral effects.  Phones can make us more informed, but might they also encourage an addiction that makes us more anxious?  How can we use social media to encourage the flow of true, rather than false, information?  And how by understanding how these, and other technologies work, can we build systems that make people happier, healthier, and more productive?

The Technology and Behavioral Science Initiative addresses these and other questions as it works to improve the impact of technology on our lives.

Motivation and Goals

Wharton and Penn’s resources in computer science, psychology, engineering, and management provide us with a unique opportunity to take a leadership position in this emerging area.  By bridging these diverse disciplines, the initiative will increase understanding in a broad range of domains, from health and politics, to information and commerce.  These insights can then be applied to enhance wellbeing, from improving customer service and disaster preparedness to building systems to identify and control the spread of hate speech and false information.

Computational social science is the future of social science. By integrating interdisciplinary insights to address real world problems, and applying advanced computational tools to deepen behavioral understanding we hope to position Penn/Wharton and the forefront of this movement.

Current Status

The initiative is currently supported by seed funding from the Wharton dean’s office. The Wharton Center for Risk Management and Decision Processes is serving as an incubator providing administrative and space support. Current activities include:

  • Behavioral Insights from Text Conference, January 12, 2018
    • Drawing the world’s leading scholars to discuss how natural language processing and text analysis can be used to shed light on all aspects of human behavior.
  • Interdisciplinary lab group
    • Bringing together students and faculty from Wharton and Computer Science to discuss shared interests, projects, and tools.
  • Post-doctoral and graduate student support